The history of jazz is full of musicians who could be described as "professional sidemen" -- people who earn a living as a sideman or accompanist but go for decades without recording as a leader (if they ever get around to it at all). When it came to recording as a leader, Tom Ferguson was definitely a late bloomer; the veteran hard bop/post-bop pianist earned a degree in music in 1954 but didn't record an album of his own until 2001. That year, he recorded the trio date Say When (which employs Tom Warrington on bass and Steve Houghton on drums) for the Las Vegas-based TNC Jazz. A swinging yet lyrical pianist whose influences (direct or indirect) range from Tommy Flanagan to Bill Evans, Warrington is no innovator. But he's a likable, expressive player, and even though Say When doesn't pretend to reinvent the jazz wheel, it isn't totally predictable either. To his credit, Ferguson doesn't limit himself to overdone Tin Pan Alley pop warhorses; the Las Vegas resident (originally from Kentucky) isn't afraid to surprise listeners now and then. Ferguson embraces "I Remember You" and "Never Let Me Go" -- both of which have been recorded extensively -- but he also tackles Alex North's "Spartacus" and the gospel standard "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," both of which are unlikely choices for a straight-ahead jazz session. Other surprises range from Jerry Bock's "Sunrise Serenade" (from the musical Fiddler on the Roof) to a lesser-known Yusef Lateef tune titled "'Teef." Not a masterpiece but solid and enjoyable, Say When makes one wish that Ferguson hadn't waited so long to record as a leader.
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